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Pistols at Dawn: Two Hundred Years of Political Rivalry from Pitt and Fox to Blair and Brown [Kindle Edition]

John Campbell
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone. Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher. Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. Personal rivalry is the very stuff of politics. The causes and controversies, the parties and technology may have changed over time but political conflict is still dramatised by the competition of ambitious individuals for the highest offices. Over the past two hundred years the size of the electorate has grown enormously and the means of reaching it transformed out of all recognition but human nature itself hasn't changed.

In his thought-provoking book John Campbell considers eight pairs of rivals and shows how their antagonism, which often evolved into outright loathing, has determined the course of political conflict. In each of his cases studies - Fox and Pitt, Castlereagh and Canning, Gladstone and Disraeli, Asquith and Lloyd George, Bevan and Gaitskell, Macmillan and Butler, Heath and Thatcher, Brown and Blair - he combines a vivid narrative with an authoritative assessment of the historical legacy that reveals how ideology is inextricably entwined with personality.

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"One of Britain's finest political biographers... a rattling good read" (Ian Aitken Guardian)

"While pistols have long since gone out of fashion, the tradition of the political duel, as John Campbell's delightful book suggests, is far from dead...a wonderfully, irresistibly compelling read" (Dominic Sandbrook The Telegraph)

"These eight studies are lively, penetrating, intelligent and, like all Campbell's work, exceptionally well written" (Philip Ziegler Spectator)

"A good introduction to British politics" (Iain Macwhirter The Herald)

"A joy to read: meticulously researched, beautifully written and scrupulously fair" (Observer)


‘This is a most engaging and rewarding book…stylish, scholarly and notably perceptive’ - BBC History Magazine, David Brooks

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2385 KB
  • Print Length: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital (22 Mar. 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004TSW27I
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #304,893 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Political rivalry brilliantly illustrated 6 Nov. 2009
Pistols at Dawn is a fascinating book partly because of the outstanding characters from English history that are portrayed but also because of the author's illustration of the development from 18th century Statesmen of Herculean stature towards the seemingly inevitable descent towards smaller minds with a less altruistic philosophy. Not that even the great Pitt is shown to be above economy with the truth when it was most needed. It is a book that throws a new light on the history of each period and a useful reminder of the crises of the past such as the Napoleonic and Great Wars for those of us who left school several decades ago. An original approach on fascinating subjects and a thoroughly good read.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and informative history 13 Dec. 2009
"Pistols at Dawn" is another excellent book from the great John Campbell, one of Britain's foremost political biographers. In a series of essays ranging from the 1780's to more or less the present day, Campbell provides fascinating and revealing insights into the competition between politicians to gain ascendancy over colleagues, party, Parliament or country. Anyone believing that competition in politics, backstairs intrigue, spin and acute personal rivalry are recent phenomena should read Campbell's book. Such features are as old as politics and in Britain particularly have been an intimate part of our parliamentary democracy for at least two hundred years.

These essays are thoroughly researched, sufficiently detailed to provide a good background to further reading, and often very funny. His judgements are reasonable, shrewd, generous and, so far as I am concerned, spot-on. While he clearly rates Lloyd George above Asquith - which will rile some readers - he is appropriately critical of the Welsh wizard. The chapter on the rivalry between Macmillan and Butler is exemplary: beautifully, indeed poignantly dramatised, informative and extraordinary - who'd have imagined that in the middle of the Twentieth century this country would have had the premiership given, finally, to a Fourteenth Earl who did not even have a seat in the House of Commons?

In his preface Campbell pays tribute to the work of fellow historians, including Richard Aldous - another great writer who is able to dramatise history without compromising accuracy and good judgement. "Pistols at Dawn" is a first-rate production which will make an ideal present for anyone interested in politics, history and people.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pistols at Dawn 19 April 2010
The actual subtitle of the book is `Two hundred years of political rivalry from Pitt & Fox to Blair & Brown'. It might equally be `A Study in Petulance'. At its highest, politics is about great things: the government of nations and empires, the clash of ideologies, the winning of wars or the betterment of societies. It is also, however, an inescapably human activity and the story of politics is just as much about personal ambition, jealousies, factionalism and clashing personalities. Pistols at Dawn is the story of eight such clashes.

The case studies are well chosen and provide a good range of rivalries. They span the whole period of more than 200 years; they include cross-party and intra-party rivalries; some have one man with the upper hand throughout, some are much more equal; some were rivals almost throughout their careers while others developed much later on; one even involves a 'rival' (Butler) who barely sees himself as such. Invariably, the contests involved contrasting characters as well as simply two people struggling for office or ascendancy.

This range prevents what could be a problem were the same story to effectively be told eight times. In fact, Campbell writes each one with all the fluency and drama of a novel, bringing out the characters of the fifteen men and one woman involved and the twists and turns of each story. Reducing the events of decades down to fifty or sixty pages in each case does mean the chapters become 'highlights packages' and cut out some of the depth but also allows the reader to compare more readily the different rivalries.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Simmering hatreds 14 Oct. 2009
The top of the greasy pole is well known as a lonely place. Our leaders might have different attitudes to marriage and domestic relationships, but it is astonishing how many of the are united in hatred. Well, maybe not hatred, just bitter and all-consuming rivalry. In many cases, I suspect that the rivalry may have preceded the hatred, but there is nothing more satisfying than seeing our supposed role models behaving with the spite and venom of cats at war. Very entertaining stuff well covered, if sometimes in a little too much detail for the events and not enough on the characters driving these legendary feuds.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In the hands of a master 5 Sept. 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Master political biographer John Campbell traces some well known elements of British political history but also offers new and important insights on the subject areas he knows best: Asquith/Lloyd George, Bevan/Gaitskell and Heath/Thatcher. He also provides what is probably the first assessment by a professional historian of the Blair/Brown relationship which he sees as a kind of Faustian bargain that got them into power for a good long time but which ultimately blew up in their faces.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 11 months ago by adam botterill
4.0 out of 5 stars An Economical Alternative to the Biographical Dictionary of British...
This volume consists of eight chapters of around 50 pages on the rivalries between British politicians over the last two centuries: between Charles Fox and William Pitt the Younger... Read more
Published 19 months ago by mangilli-climpson m
4.0 out of 5 stars Pistols at Dawn
An excellent and well researched narrative. The author is a master of past and recent political history and seems equally comfortable discussing Pitt and Fox who died 200 years ago... Read more
Published 21 months ago by tony cheetham
3.0 out of 5 stars Slightly disappointed
While the book is a somewhat interesting read, the author does let his political bias shine through quite clearly and that can make it a very irritating read. Read more
Published on 16 Aug. 2013 by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good read
Enjoying this a lot, great intro into various political rivalries throughout the centuries. Written in a clear and concise manner, well worth getting
Published on 6 July 2013 by Carl Stallwood
5.0 out of 5 stars people, power and the greasy pole
A great read for all those inserted in politics and history, but this book is much more than that. It is also a fascinating study of people and power - what enables some to rise to... Read more
Published on 28 Dec. 2011 by markr
5.0 out of 5 stars Looks like a good read
Purchased this book as a gift for my son. It looks a good read. Arrived very promptly with no problems.
Published on 22 Dec. 2011 by CVella
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging and Informative
A brilliant compilation of short stories describing eight bitter political rivalries that have occurred over the last two hundred years of English parliamentary history, beginning... Read more
Published on 10 May 2010 by Chris Newman
5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Good, Enjoyable and Entertaining Book
Pistols at Dawn by John Campbell is a very good book dealing with some of the great political rivalries in British history. Read more
Published on 15 Jan. 2010 by HBH
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